Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pregnancy Spidey Senses

I wonder if the only people who really taste food are children and pregnant women. Oh and top chefs, maybe?

Don't you ever find yourself saying, "It doesn't taste like I remember when I was a kid?" Or remembering how you had such strong reactions to foods that don't phase you now?  Either positive or negative?

My husband and I do agree that most of the packaged or restaurant foods we fondly remember are truly not the same due to ingredient changes over the years.  A guilty indulgence in IHOP or Oreo cookies, for example, produces only sad disappointment.  Perhaps our years of home cooking have matured us past the questionable ingredients they use to perform cheap parlor-tricks on our taste buds.

But I have always admired people with the chef's palate. Those who can taste all the different flavors in things they eat, and more impressive, by imagination alone can tell you how flavors will mingle.  I'm an artistic dunce that way.  Same for the visual arts.  Now, my massage therapist hands feel things others do not, but that is totally another subject...

What I'm saying is that when I am pregnant, food suddenly takes on color and depth that I haven't experienced since childhood.  I still wouldn't call my palate artistic - more scientific - when pregnant.  But it's like instinctual knowledge about the nutritional value of each ingredient is programmed into my brain and sensory organs and a magic hormone key has unlocked the door to this land of Oz.  When I have swallowed something containing the exact combination of color, smell, flavor and nutrition that satisfies my cravings, the munchkins start singing and dancing.

Don't knock it.  It truly is, I believe, a super power bestowed on us for 10 months.  Kind of the like the super powers of growing another human being and producing colostrum.

Now back to that avocado and awaze smeared on Semifreddi's sourdough...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reasons We Love Lindsey Wildlife Museum

Location really is a big reason we love this place.  Just around the corner from our house and connected to Larkey Park in Walnut Creek, means many times we wander into the museum on park days, or just cruise by to say "Hi" to the turkey vulture in her cage or see if the other raptors are exercising in the yard.

My 3-year old adores watching procedures in the hospital viewing area and playing the interactive computer games and simulations.  I have found the docents to be engaging, articulate, and passionate about what they do.  I love that teenage volunteers are animal ambassadors leading many of the meet-and-greet sessions with the hamsters, snakes and other creepy crawlies.
We've enjoyed the mini classes and activities offered, such as guided nature-walks within 20 minutes of the museum.  Both my son and I are learning to identify the natives plants and animals in our area.  For example, have you ever seen one of these hanging from an oak tree and thought it was a nut?  Nope.  It's a wasp gall.
It's the kind of wholesome activity that pleases our little and his grownups!  I think he really feels it's his museum and I look forward to the day when he can volunteer there!

One of the main reasons I recommend this place even to my West-of-Caldecott-Tunnel friends, is because a family membership at the Lindsey Wildlife Museum will run you about $65 per year.  Even if you never cross the doors after a first visit, you can reap the benefits of their agreement with the Oakland Zoo which allows you free admission to the Zoo and discounts at other cool places all over California and the rest of the U.S.  A savings of at least $30 over a Zoo membership.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Soaked Farro Beef Carrot & Kale Stew

Admit it, I am not the only one staring blankly at the refrigerator and pantry 1 hour before dinner praying for inspiration.  And then Googling the ingredients for that inspiration.  But, I'm not a by the recipe cook.  So when I find a recipe that sounds interesting, I just scan through the main ingredients and then go for it.  Not a lot of measuring and absolutely no running to the store for extra ingredients.  That's against the rules. :)  Cooking is one of my few artistic outlets - even though I don't think I am very good at it per se.  I just like the Zen of actually doing it.  When it's tasty to boot, then everyone is happy.  Fortunately, dinner tonight was tasty, so I want to write it here so I don't forget it.

I've had some beautiful farro in the pantry for months now.  It's been patiently waiting there as I mulled over whether something from the whole grain wheat family was actually something I should be serving my family right now.  Crisp fall mornings and pregnancy cravings have overrun any grain fears for now, but I still proceed with caution, favoring naturally fermented sourdough, gluten free flours, and soaking what isn't soured.

So here's the approximation of what I did for dinner tonight...It turned out yummy!  As I don't measure much when I cook, the amounts are estimates.  Scan for inspiration and proceed at-will.  :)


1 cup soaked farro (overnight with a splash of ACV)
2 quarts lamb stock (beef stock would be great)
1 lb cubed beef (lamb would be great too)
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, pureed
3 medium carrots cut into bite sized pieces
few sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
splash of port wine
salt and pepper to taste
handful of chopped kale (optional)

1)  Place cut carrots into simmering stock.  After a few minutes, add the soaked, drained and rinsed farro to the stock as well.

2)  Heat a dutch oven or other heavy bottomed soup pot to medium-high heat and then add cubed beef to brown. Don't stir too much, just let it brown up nicely.

3)  When the meat is nicely browned on all sides, add some sea salt (to taste) and the diced onions and minced garlic.  Stir to get a saute on the onions and garlic, but keep it from burning. Just a few minutes.

4)  Add a splash of port to the pan and then the pureed tomato.  Bring to nice bubbly simmer at the same medium-high heat.  Let the tomato reduce a little - about 5 minutes.  

5)  Carefully pour the simmering stock, carrots and farro into the meat mixture.  Add spices and let the whole batch come up to bubbly simmer and then turn down heat and place lid.  Simmer approx 30 minutes.  

6)  At the end, check for salt and then toss in the kale a few minutes before removing from heat.

The farro thickens up this stew very nicely and it makes it so hearty and satisfying.  Great with a side of sourdough slathered in pastured butter!

Bouillon Leather in the Dehydrator

Best thing I've done with my dehydrator in recent memory....

Procured a beautiful Diestel Turkey at Lunardi's for $3.29/lb.  For $30, I think I get my value out of this large bird for my family of 3+.  But I tried something that turned out to make that turkey keep on giving!

The usual MO is to brine and roast my turkeys, enjoying one or two hearty dinners with the usual fixings and then saving all remnants in the freezer for future meals.  The carcass goes straight into the crock pot for turkey broth which usually gives me about 2 1-quart containers of nutrient rich broth to freeze.  My problem is the defrosting part.  Ugh.  Ever been that mommy with a huge lump of broth GLACIER (shaped suspiciously like a yogurt tub) half-melted in an otherwise rip-roaring stew or chili?  Fervently poking and prodding it with a wooden spoon saying "MELT, MELT..."?  Yah, and remember the definition of insanity....?

So instead of being insane, I tried something new...which could have wasted all that glorious turkey broth I suppose...but it didn't!  It turned out to be bouillon leather that I keep in my cupboard and use like cubed bouillon, but without MSG or other mystery ingredients.  When I need a piece, I use kitchen shears to snip off the pieces.  I haven't got it mathematically figured out how much to use when I cook - but I don't cook that way anyway...just keep adding till it tastes right.

Here are the steps I used:

1. Made turkey broth/stock as usual with whole carcass in my crock pot.
2. Next day, strained the stock into a regular stove top pot and simmered with lid off till it was almost gone.  It appeared like syrup at this stage.
3. Let it cool a bit.
4. Poured into one fruit rollup tray of my Nesco Food Dehydrator.
5. Dehydrate overnight.

Final product:  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Confessions of an Elitist Food Snob-Or-Organic Finds At Grocery Outlet

Ok, I admit it.  I am an elitist real food snob.  Well, some might call me that, but in reality I don't have nearly enough energy or budget to deserve the title.  Nor do I want to be one.  With all the over-abundance of information I've encountered in my quest to feed my family healthily, there have been times I've teetered on the edge of insanity with all the "supposed tos".  Soaking, sprouting, fermenting, simmering, dehydrating, chopping, foraging, raw, pastured, organic, local.... One can either pay top dollar for the perfect diet of the moment, or spend every waking moment creating everything from scratch ala Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Can you say nervous breakdown?

To keep me from the brink of insanity this thought helps a lot:  I think a reasonable level of health and well-being is available to all income levels.  To sum up, God is not partial.   Don't get me wrong, I am not glamorizing poverty or dismissing the advantages of sufficient income.

But I strongly feel that the basics are within the reach of us all.  Sunshine, exercise, water, simple food, enough rest, a balanced outlook and cleanliness.  These elements are truly within the reach of everyone living in the U.S. no matter how bad the economy may be.

And I have a strong hunch that what we need is usually right on our doorstep, whether we live in Africa or Alameda.  For example, have you ever noticed that clover filled grass patches attract lots of bees?  Prime bee sting opportunity for little bare toes.  Now, have you ever noticed plantain weeds growing in those same areas?  Prime herbal medicine for all things stingy.

But I digress from my title....doorstep availability was leading to this: At my husband's urging I finally went into Grocery Outlet.  The reason I had not entered before is due to the aforementioned snobbery.  I am humbled.

At checkout, the clerk announced I had saved $40 by shopping with them instead of another store.  Close to tears I had to admit she was right.  Here are just two things I was excited by in my haul:

Coconut oil $4.99 ($1 cheaper than TJ's)
Organic Thompson Raisins (don't remember exact price, but cheaper than TJ's)

I am now a happy convert to Grocery Outlet...and in a small way my theory is proved to me yet again.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Aquarium of the Bay Via Discover and Go Pass

Couldn't have asked for a more beautiful San Francisco day, but have to give Aquarium of the Bay only a C-!  Was so ready to like it, too.  Yelp was right yet again, but we didn't complain too much since our Discover and Go passes from the Contra Costa County library got us in free.

  • Plenty of sensory and intellectual stimuli to occupy an almost 3-year old (underwater tunnels, schooling anchovies, pulsating jelly fish, docent-led activities, a Nemo tank, touchable starfish).
  • Can view the whole thing in less than two hours.
  • Breathtaking Bay views (Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, et al.)
  • Free street parking and free admission with the Discover and Go pass.
Starfish lunch of shrimp


  • The same stimuli enjoyed by my pre-schooler fell flat for me since I've seen it done better at every other aquarium on the West Coast.  Seems like SF could do better.
  • Parking!!  Perhaps this was our timing (Saturday afternoon in mid-August), but the closest parking garage was full and traffic made searching a few-block radius for free street parking seem like the 2-hour trip to Monterey for a much better aquarium might actually be worth considering....
  • Cramped, claustrophobic, kinda shabby, elevators to each floor.
Bottom line:
We both agreed the admission price was not worth what we experienced today.  Even with a free pass, the distance, toll bridge and time spent was only off-set by the scenery outside the aquarium.

We have much more fun with our Lindsey Wildlife Museum membership and the free admission we get to Oakland Zoo with it!  And our Discover and Go scored a hit when we went to Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley last month.